Tag Archives: poet recommendation

My Time with the Poetry of Billy Collins

Billy Collins, former U. S. Poet LaureateBilly Collins is one of the first poets I lighted on while foraging to find poetry that spoke to me.

In my search to improve my writing, I sought read writers whose writing allowed me to hear their messages. The idea of constantly appealing to others for decoding is not appealing to me. I prefer to read through the lines, sift through my knowledge base, and query the verses.

Trolling the poetry shelves at my local Barnes & Noble, the first thing that caught my eye, of course, were the titles. First one gem than another. Finally, I was mugged by The Art of Drowning ©1995, by Billy Collins. The title caught hold of my imagination, and I immediately had to know what that title meant.

After reading a few of the poems, I made the happy discovery that it was easy for me to be swept up in his lines-become-the-breeze of relating. And so I figured out that not all poets write to befuddle and confound me into giving up. That was about ten years ago. And I’ve enjoyed reading and hearing his poetry ever since.

Below you can listen to Billy Collins reading The Litany, one of my newer favorites, from The Trouble with Poetry ©2005

While reading through Ballistics ©2008, I found this jammed between the pages.

Inspirational Writers

Billy Collins makes me
want to write;
Lucille Clifton makes me
retire my poet’s pen and paper.
they swap inspirations.

© 2008 Shari Lynne Smothers

Billy Collins’ poems make me work in good ways, to understand his meaning. He tells me about beautiful things and simple treasures in the small moments. And he can make me laugh out loud, like in The Lanyard. His writing draws me in until I’m almost looking through his eyes, and I can see the world with new eyes, and new appreciation.

Below are just a few of his poems I’ve enjoyed, that I was able to find online.

Many of the poems in Collins’ collections are unrhymed, free verse, and are subtly rhythmic. Collins writes accessible poetry. He paints lovely, intricate latticework, detailed and strong enough for readers to cross over to that place where understanding is there for the sharing. Here’s one from The Apple That Astonished Paris.


They call Basque an orphan language.
Linguists do not know
what other languages gave it birth.

From the high window of the orphanage
it watches English walking alone to the cemetery
to visit the graves of its parents,
Latin and Anglo-Saxon

Some poetry readers and writers may not appreciate this quality, preferring instead to draw blood from us and themselves. I am of a different ilk. I try not to share my poems that no one else will get except for me and my best friends. I think when a writer publishes, the goal is to impart something comprehensible and meaningful for her and for we readers to share. Billy Collins accomplishes this very well for me. So, I thought I’d say so.

One of Collins’ books, Sailing Alone Around the Room ©2001, is a nice selection of poems from older collections, The Apple That Astonished Paris (1988), Questions About Angels (1991), The Art of Drowning (1995), and Picnic, Lightning (1998).

After reading Lucille Clifton

Lucille Clifton
As National Poetry Month 2010 comes to a close, I think of this important voice that has gone from this life. Selfishly, indeed, I will miss her. I was originally going to post this in early February. Time got away from me and then poet, Lucille Clifton, passed away. That threw me for a bit. Now, as I’m getting back on track, I think it works to post this now.

For Lucille Clifton

birth: June 27, 1936   death: February 13, 2010

The poetry of Lucille Clifton influenced me greatly. Her wit and rhetoric, and rhythm in delivery are such that they keep me reading and returning to her work. This National Poetry Month, I think on her more often since there are no new words to come, since she is newly gone from us—from me.

Lucille Clifton embraced her gift for poetry, and fortunately we have it to relish, enjoy and learn from. Her poems are prayers, celebrations, indictments, remembrances, and observations. So much more and so moving. Her work embodies the life and times of an entire culture through the eyes of one who was born to see. And I am better for having read her accounts. As, her talent inspires me to strive to improve my skill for poetry.

I want to share with you one of my many favorites of her poems, from her award winning collection Blessing the Boats: New and Selected Poems 1988-2000, © 2000. It has no capitalization, which is how Ms. Clifton writes them.

study the masters

by Lucille Clifton

like my aunt timmie.
it was her iron,
or one like hers,
that smoothed the sheets
the master poet slept on.
home or hotel, what matters is
he lay himself down on her handiwork
and dreamed. she dreamed too, words:
some cherokee, some masai and some
huge and particular as hope.
if you had heard her
chanting as she ironed
you would understand form and line
and discipline and order and

I first came across Blessing the Boats, thanks to my friend Kirk Byron Jones. I was so amazed by her writing and the way she was speaking to and teaching me, directly. I often write back to what I read—I believe that’s what margins are for. I am not a critic so much as I just like what I like. And when it moves me I’ll put it in the margin. In the margin of the above poem I wrote, WOW. That was all I dared write. Later, in the back of her book, I wrote:

After reading Lucille Clifton

I am awed and inspired
but first daunted. Before
inspiration to pick up my pen
takes over me,
the dauntingly simple profundity
overwhelms me.
And I am knocked speechless
from mouth and pen
to utter any word.

© 2003 Shari Lynne Smothers

Some years earlier, Bonnie Fastring gave me Clifton’s book Good Woman: Poems and a Memoir 1969-1980, © 1987, which I returned to with renewed interest. Since then I have read and loved several of her other collections too. Hers are verses I revisit in good and bad times, to be enthralled, consoled and inspired by her messages, and by her talent for weaving the words.

If you’ve never come across Lucille Clifton’s writing, I definitely recommend you get to know her poetry. If you like the poem above, do read more, and listen to her readings. Visit the links below to find out a bit more about the writer and her works. And always a good trip, visit your local library if you want to read more before buying a collection. Enjoy. And come tell me about it, if you get a chance.

Addendum: You can hear more from Lucille Clifton on YouTube. Here’s another I really like, “won’t you celebrate with me” from The Book of Light, © 1993.